Publication: Harper’s Bazaar
Date: March 2005
CHANTEUSE OF COOL
In an industry packed with cute girlie-girls, Faye Wong reigns supreme for her captivating unattainably and regal aloofness, nurtured over 15 years as a vaguely mysterious superstar. Michelle Bong uncovers the secret of her enduring appeal.
Photographed By Duc Liao.
Perhaps the most distinguished female singer in contemporary Chinese music circles, Faye Wong has been a main fixture on the Mandarin and Cantopop scene for about 15 years. And now the singer-actress, who has always been at the forefront of fashion and music trends, has become a “friend” of French fashion label Celine.
With her lithe 175cm frame and porcelain-doll good looks, Wong is perfect for the role. Not your average star, she stands out among the music industry’s heavily packaged Asian artistes. She is the woman among the girls, the self-confessed introvert with a brand of cool insouciance and a refreshing attitude that has made her captivatingly intriguing.
Her reputation as Ice Queen precedes her. She’s been called the Chinese entertainment world’s notoriously monosyllabic interviewee. Aloof, temperamental, withdrawn and taciturn are some of the adjectives used to describe her.
Is that the real Faye Wong? “I’ve differentiated very clearly between the Faye Wong who keeps appearing in newspaper reports and the real Faye Wong, myself,” she has said in earlier interviews. “I don’t expect everyone to really understand me.”
Therein lies her appeal — Wong knows who she is and is confident in her own skin. She doesn’t care if people have skewed perceptions of her. She is contented to leave us second-guessing her next move, waiting with a delicious anticipation that she would amaze us, once again.
Born to a factory engineer father and an opera singer mother, the 30-something pop diva made her debut in 1989 with a self-titled offering called SHIRLEY WONG, her original moniker. Years later, she took on the name Faye and was catapulted into the superstar stratosphere with a string of Mandarin and Cantopop hits.
The Beijing native has almost 20 music albums and more than 50 awards to her name, most recently sweeping the Best Female Vocalist and Best Performing Regional Female Artiste awards at the Singapore Hit Awards last year. She’s even made it into the GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS as the best-selling Cantopop female star, lauded for selling millions of albums and being one of the first women to dominate the Hong Kong recording industry.
Almost from the start, the undeniably talented Wong has chartered her own musical course with corresponding images. Her reinventions throughout the span of her career have been mind-boggling, to say the least. Almost overnight, she could morph from coy ingénue to avant-garde princess to seductive femme fatale. And her concerts have been her platform to tog herself out in a wardrobe that can only be described as eclectic; she’s as comfortable in flouncy gowns as she is in 15cm heels.
Her penchant for experimenting with music and the alternative has gained her comparisons with Western artistes such as Tori Amos, The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan, Bjork, and even the ethereal Scottish trio Cocteau Twins, whom she went on to collaborate with on their album. Wong’s celestial soprano voice — a lovely blend of crystal clarity and wistfulness — has trilled to her legions of fans in Asia and Europe.
While her music has made headlines, so have her relationships. The beauty is known to protect her privacy very fiercely, so fans and critics alike were surprised when her romances became juicy fodder for the tabloids. Her marriage to Chinese rocker Dou Wei lasted all of three years, sputtering out when her fame eclipsed his widely. It produced a seven-year-old daughter, Jing Tong. Then, Wong did a Demi Moore and had a brief (albeit widely criticized) relationship with bad boy Nicholas Tse, who’s 11 years younger. The relationship elevated his status as a rising star, but things soured after the revelation of a very public love triangle between them and Hong Kong starlet Cecilia Cheung. Wong fled and has since found herself in the arms of Chinese actor Li Yapeng, and is rumored to be a bride soon.
Music and a chequered love life aside, Wong has also made some tentative ventures onto the big screen. She’s leaned toward art-house flicks, displaying a penchant for the quirky through small roles in CHUNGKING EXPRESS (she plays a cafe waitress romanced by Tony Leung) and OKINAWA RENDEZVOUS (where she finds herself sharing a flat with two bank robbers). Most recently, she was seen in Wong Kar Wai’s widely anticipated 2046.
Into her 15th year in the fickle world of show business where young, new faces are a dime a dozen, Wong’s success is by no means coincidental, although she credits luck and her ability to ride the wave of trends as her assets. Here is a single mother who’s a force to be reckoned with, an artiste who who’s more about talent, less about packaging.
Standing safely behind her music, her movies and her loves, Wong will always be an enigma. Her modus operandi is all to clear — just when it seems she’s ready to bear her soul, she’ll withdraw at the last minute, leaving us wanting. Unconventional and unashamed of it, Wong knows she needs to impress no one.
Reluctant celebrity, devoted mother, hardworking artiste. All this (and much more) could well be the woman behind the glossy images and the haughty air. Wong will continue to taunt us with her effortless unattainably, to be the enigma she’s always been. Why? Because she can.